Checklists for Stretch Assignments


stretch-assignment-final

Stretch assignments are useful for learning and personal growth and development, because they purposefully contain elements that are challenging in areas where the assignee needs to develop. Designed correctly, a stretch assignment confronts one with the necessity  to get out of your comfort zone in order to succeed.

The starting point for designing such an assignment can be multiple data sources:

  • the person’s own development needs compared to established leadership competencies,
  • key proven areas of mastery that a company requires from their leaders to advance to the next level,
  • a mindset or  mindset shift that is required to move the company and its leaders into a new way of operating; or
  • to build competency in specific important areas that are or will be important to the future of the company.

A stretch is not defined in a general way, but rather it is very specific to a person. While a stretch could mean that one requirement is for the person (plus family, if appropriate) to move to an international location, it inevitably would also include other job-related challenges. Examples include supervising more people, having financial performance targets (for someone who has only had functional roles in the past) or having more complexity such as multiple geographical areas to manage. The key balance to maintain when designing stretch assignments is to ensure that the assignee is put under a certain amount of pressure to learn and grow, but not so much pressure that he or she fails.

Mitigating failure risks, there are a few things you can implement to help monitor how things are going with each assignee and to provide a “safety net” for an assignee to get support from.

  1. Assign subject-matter experts as coaches – depending on the scope of the assignment
  2. Assign a leadership development coach to help the assignee reflect on experiences, frame up challenges and cognitively choose best solutions and explore new ways of operating to be more successful in the assigned areas of responsibility.
  3. Set up intra-company networking events for the assignees to meet, have opportunities to mingle and share experiences and also include a pre-determined learning event tied to overall leadership development objectives within the company.
  4. Set up a structure of communication moments with the “home” organization supervisor and colleagues – this is especially important if you plan to return the assignee to the same organization at the end of the assignment. Maintaining ties would greatly improve a successful return and reintegration after an assignment. Communication moments like these can also greatly help colleagues NOT on assignment to learn from the experiences and best-in-class solutions their colleague on assignment is mastering.

New and challenging assignments often cause assignees to experience some stress. Supporting assignees to successfully navigate through the new challenges means you should pay attention to a change in behavior or performance which could indicate that he or she is stuck on the learning curve. Signs that things are going wrong are important to notice early-on to maximize chances of turning things around and avoiding an assignment disappointment and/or incurring an assignee retention risk. Pre-departure training should be provided to both assignees and their coaches to understand and recognize signs that things may not be going well and to understand ways to become unstuck in every situation.

Some warning signals:

stretch-assignments-signs-of-failure

Expectations for goal achievement by assignees must be specifically captured in a plan and communicated to an assignee along with available rewards for over-achievement of goals. The specific strategic importance of the assignment should also be highlighted as well as the developmental needs to be addressed during the assignment.

Tips for stretch-assignment coordinators:

  1. Ensure that there is a structure that enables assignees to succeed and always follow-through with the check-in points and feedback activities to ensure all is well.
  2. Ensure that all those involved in assignments are clear on the role of management, role and responsibilities of supporting coaches, the role and responsibilities of assignees and the role and responsibilities of assignment supervisors and “home office” supervisors.
  3. Adequately prepare assignees for their assignments: cultural awareness training (for international assignments), language skills (where needed) and if accompanied by family members – consider a session to discuss the practicalities of moving to a new location with those family members present.
  4. Ensure that the assignees get interim feedback on how their assignments are going -at least 3 times per year, but more often if this can be managed. This provides opportunities to refocus and apply new approaches as needed to ensure the assignment is successful.
  5. Provide assignees and stakeholders in assignments ample notification about the end date of an assignment. This assures minimum surprises and helps everyone to plan actions leading to a well-organized return upon assignment completion.

When assignments are successful in achieving or exceeding on all the objectives, assignees should return from their experiences with increased confidence, leadership skills, and maturity. The personal growth and development they experienced should enhance their ability to make better decisions and build stronger interpersonal relationships with those they lead and follow. Being mindful of how to setup and manage stretch assignments can make all of that a reality.

 

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Structured Knowledge Sharing


people-finalVery few companies are planning ahead when it comes to knowledgeable people leaving the company and retiring. The knowledge that is lost to the company when Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) leave can have direct impacts to the top and bottom-line and yet, there appears to be room for improvement in this process.

The need for implementing a structured process for knowledge transfer or sharing can naturally come from any of the following process and review discussions involving HR representatives and Managers:

  • Succession Planning
  • Workforce planning
  • Recognition and Reward reviews
  • Training needs assessment
  • Organizational capability discussions (now and future)

The question is: how are you ensuring that those with recognized expertise in a specific area contribute to the learning of others?

In many cases such a recognized SME is assigned to mentor a more junior employee delivering promising results early in his/her career with the company. However, the time commitment associated with mentoring a one to three people individually plus ensuring that the interactions are meeting content coverage expectations can soon become a concern.  So how do you optimize the knowledge transfer or sharing process, while not taking up too much of the SMEs time doing so?

The solution is to structure the knowledge transfer or knowledge sharing process and to include multiple participants. Ideally participants with an SME should range between 3 and a maximum of 8 people. Structuring sessions where people interact improves learning as it facilitates discussions leading to deeper understanding and the ability to get into more detail on some topics.

knowledge-transfer-graphic

You may choose to add elements such as a pre- and post-test to measure the increase in knowledge gained during a session or series of sessions. Preparing managers of session participants to ensure that newly gained knowledge can be applied on-the-job, would further help participants internalize what they are learning and have learned. This greatly improves the amount of newly acquired knowledge integrated in decision-making and execution of daily work activities at the company.

Structuring the discussions that will take place between an SME and assigned participants can be a daunting task for an SME, who often does not realize how much he or she knows about various topics. The questions below may be useful. Combine those that make sense to combine and do not get too hung up if the group takes longer to discuss a particular question/topic than anticipated. The questions or topics are merely a guide to help the SME consider the various aspects relating to a topic that he or she may be an expert at. The topics/questions below pertain to a process, but can easily be modified to facilitate knowledge sharing related to tools, applications and other areas of expert knowledge.

discussion-topics-for-smes

Capturing knowledge in a database would be one approach to knowledge sharing, but helping adults learn and know how to apply new knowledge requires that you build in room for questions and discussions in the process. This can be accomplished using face-to-face sessions and could also be webinars and video-conferences.

The best way to ensure that knowledge is retained and expanding within the company is to apply discipline and structure to knowledge sharing and transfer. This is especially important to do when you consider those who plan to retire in the next two to three years. Involving recognized experts (SMEs) within your company to share their knowledge with others is another important area where this approach could be useful. Using the process and approach shared above will help you plan ahead and improve organizational capability over time .

Career Planning Workshop Materials


roads2People of all career-stages have talked to me over the years about their careers and how they thought it was going. Very often it would become clear that the person ended up in a role or position which he or she did not really choose, but rather “it just happened.” Apparently many people never took the time to consider, analyze or dream about the options and pathways available to them as career options and then used that to make clear choices about next steps based on that knowledge or dream.

The materials I am sharing today can help you, the facilitator, put together a starter workshop designed to give participants the opportunity to reflect on conscious options to consider or analyze in terms of career planning. I am sharing multiple exercises and it would be up to you to decide what to include given the time you have available for the workshop.

From an attendee perspective this workshop could help participants from any age  (over 14) to get some clarity. Those who are already in steady careers may find it helpful to perhaps fine-tune their own roles in areas where they are not yet fully contributing and adding value according to their own interests and preferences.

Workshop outline:

career-workshop-1

career-workshop-2

Career workshop Slides   Click on the link to view the slides you will need for the workshop.

The exercises that are mentioned can be facilitated using the worksheets in this document.  Just click through to find it.

This workshop works well in non-profit settings, school or open university settings and can also be used in companies where career planning is initiated as a focus area to help employees develop further skills and set development goals.

 

 

Rate yourself as a Leader


pen writing finalThe ability to reflect and learn from experiences and observations is one I most commonly associate with and admire in the best leaders that I have met over the years. This resource can be used to help leaders reflect on their own behaviors to identify development and improvement needs.

Leadership rating tool link

This resource is also useful when applied as a 360-type feedback tool. In that case the leader rates himself or herself and then requests feedback from others – in more senior roles, same level peers or in lower hierarchical roles – interacting with the leader on a regular basis. The 360 view can help eliminate any blind-spots that a leader may have concerning his or her own leadership behaviors as the perspectives are from others who often interface with the leader.  The leadership rating worksheet shared contains a sheet for self rating and also a sheet which can be shared with others for feedback purposes.

The leadership aspects covered in this resource are:

  • Commitment
  • Risk taking
  • Motivational style
  • Open-mindedness
  • Diversity conscious
  • Trustworthiness
  • Continuous learning
  • Self-adjustment
  • Steadiness

Each of the aspects come with a brief description to ensure ratings are comparable after you have obtained the feedback from others.

Uses for this resource include:

  1. Updating your own development plan and setting new goals and priorities for your own development activities
  2. Discussing the results with a coach or mentor to get guidance on what to focus on and how to plan next steps to improve on key leadership aspects.
  3. If a manager rates all of the leaders working in his or her department using this tool you can compare the leaders to each other in terms of strengths and development needs. This would be useful information to help select the best development programs for the team over the next year (for example).

Developing leadership skills is a lifelong journey. We can all learn to do better in some aspects over time and tools like this one can be a very useful check-in for reflection even for those who have been leaders for a long time. It is also true that we expect more from leaders in a globalized business world and concepts like “diversity conscious” and “cross cultural” skills are becoming very important for leaders to be effective on a global scale.

Developmental Assignment Process Map


global travel5

A decade ago it seemed to be more common for employees to be on developmental assignments for longer periods of time. These days the duration of assignments seems to have become shorter. The required steps are not much different though. Some of the biggest unintended outcomes of assignments are:

  • The employee (and/or family) did not fully understand what they were getting into and found it too overwhelming at the assignment location – wished to return earlier or resigned.
  • Employees did not understand how the assignment was adding to their skill sets or competencies and were often frustrated and demotivated.
  • Employee on assignment no longer felt connected to the home office and were anxious about what happens after the assignment – wished to return earlier or resigned.
  • Employees (and families) experienced a high level of anxiety associated with the assignments due to inadequate preparation and support before, during and after return to home location.

It is vital for the organization to have a clear process around the mobilization, preparation, sustaining, return, development of assignees and there are multiple organizations (internally and possibly externally if outsourced) which need to contribute to the process in order to make the assignment a successful one for the company and the employee

The Developmental Assignment Process Map resource shared here shows a simplified version of such a process map. It takes into account the logistics part, which may be an internal organization (Center of Excellence) or an outsourced party, the role of the manager, the role of the employee and how the Business Partner can contribute to ensure the entire process yields the desired outcomes. There are also some suggestions for surveys to capture any feedback to identify useful improvements to the process.

Developmental Assignment Process Map resource link.

Some additional tips:

  • Make sure that managers are clear on the process, the various steps and the specific roles and responsibilities. Most employees will ask their managers for advice and information first. The role of the manager is very important to ensure future retention of the employee by staying in touch and ensuring the employee continues to feel valued by the organization during and after the assignment.
  • Create or outsource a solid assignment preparation program for employees (and families as applicable). This includes cultural awareness training, language training and developing the right mindset and approach to living in a new country for a period of time.
  • Apply attention and diligence when outsourcing logistics and defining the SLAs associated with mobilization. Lost goods, delays in finding accommodation, faulty or missing paperwork can cause a lot of unnecessary distraction and anxiety on the part of an employee on assignment. Conduct regular audits and have discussions with an outsourcing partner/COE using the surveys as a basis to provide input aimed at improving the experience of assignees.
  • Ensure either the Business Partner or the Manager has discussions with the employees to be sent on the assignment to ensure they understand how to leverage the opportunity to improve on their own skill sets/competencies and how they should contribute to the learning of those at the assignment location and again to the learning of those at the home office upon their return.

Being sent on an assignment is both an opportunity and a responsibility for the assignee. It can bring out the best and worst in a person as he/she (and the family) is faced with huge life changes compared to life at the home office. The experience can lead to increased maturity, improved leadership skills and understanding and increased knowledge and skills if managed properly. As the manager, business partner or any other stakeholder in the process, it is important you ensure there is a clear process map detailing the various steps by process contributor and that each stakeholder is acutely aware of the bigger picture while performing own parts.

Evaluate balance in life TEMPLATE


Some coaches I have met like to use a tool to help someone they coach look at his or her own life and how they are running their lives from a big picture perspective as opposed to just focusing on one specific aspect of someone’s life like their career success. A coach typically uses a tool like this one to help someone work on their values and how those priorities show up in their life choices or as a check-up maybe once a year to see how things are going in terms of having a balanced life. People dealing with signs of burn-out may also benefit from using this kind of tool with their coach to see where their lives may not be balanced or may not be a good reflection of their values or the aspects that they say are their highest priorities.

Evaluate Life tool resource link

The Evaluate Life tool can help facilitate the evaluation of one’s “life set-up” and discussions around having a balanced life – the importance thereof and how to achieve it through specific goal-setting in each area (named pizza-slices in the attachment). Sometimes people tell me that a specific area is not important to them and this may be best explored by their coaches. In my opinion a tool like this is most valuable to help create awareness around the importance of having a balanced life and to support subsequent goal-setting for improving specific areas of a life.

Interpreting the results from this kind of tool is best done with someone who has experience in this area – like a coach or a trained mentor or even someone with the right experience and background within the HR or Learning and Development departments.

How to set priorities in an action plan


After a survey, a brainstorming session or a discussion it is often true that you end up with a long list of actions that should be put into an action plan. With many actions, a small number of people available to execute on those actions while also doing their normal day jobs and possibly low funds available for some of the actions this could seem overwhelming.  At such a time it becomes really important that you are somehow able to prioritize the list of actions to focus your limited resources and funds on the most important actions. But which ones are more important than the others?

The Priority Setting resource I am sharing with you contains a section where you can enter all of the actions you have in the text column – simply replace the example statements I have there with your own actions. The next column is called Ease of Implementation. Consider how many people you would need to dedicate to an implementation, how long will it take? How much do you need to spend/invest in order to implement this action? If it will take a lot of people working intensively and it may cost a lot to invest – for example in buying expensive licences to a software package/system – then you should score that action closer to a 1 for this column. The harder it is to implement the lower the score should be. Your scores in this column should be between 1 and 5.

Priority Setting resource link.

The next column is called Impact Potential. This column requires a score for each action item in terms of how much will it improve your business or move you closer to achieving your strategies and business goals if you had this action completed? If the impact will be low then your score should be closer to 1. Low would mean that employees and customers would barely notice the difference after implementation. It could also mean you would not gain much strategic advantage, market share improvements, long-term positioning, synergies, major cost savings or any other business impact that would be noticeable. The scores in this column should be between 1 and 5.

The graph with dots will be generated automatically on the electronic worksheet after you have put in your actions and the scores as indicated. The numbers appearing next to the dots are the numbers that correlate with your list of actions. Use the graphic below that to interpret your score results and understand which actions you should prioritize over overs.

prioritising actions legend

If your dots appear in one of the yellow sections, you have some questions to ponder. If you can solve the question in each case you may be able to move that particular action into a different “zone” by changing the score. This means you are able to for example make it easier to implement by solving an issue which made it particularly difficult to implement. Or it could mean you realize the business impact is bigger than you previously realized because the company could gain a competitive edge if you implemented that particular action.  Your final action plan for immediate focus areas should contain those actions which finally end up in the green zone on the legend.

Be sure to communicate the reasoning behind your high priority actions to the key stakeholders in the outcomes of the action plan. They may have additional insights to share which could further cause you to change the scoring of actions.

You can use the Action Plan posted here to capture the actions that you will implement, monitor status of and report on regularly.

Preparing for a Coaching Session


Coaching sessions and programs are more successful when there are clear coaching goals and actions planned are documented. These developmental actions and activities should be reviewed and updated on a regular basis. This helps both the coach and the person being coached to maintain a focus on the outcomes they are trying to work towards achieving.

When coaches or those being coached approached me in the past with reservations about a failing coaching relationship I often discovered that they never kept any notes or documents which detailed the overall goals to be achieved or the agreed path forward (actions and activities to be completed before the next session).  When I provided them with the Preparation for Coaching worksheet they mostly reported having an improved sense of progress and achievement in the coaching process.

Many employees who are new to coaching have misguided expectations about the coaching process and their own role in it. They expect the coach would show up at each session ready to provide them with useful information and advice and all they needed to do was to show up. In reality the coaching process works much better when both parties actively participate and prepare for each session.

Coaching process JAG

This process graphic shows that each party in the coaching process provides input and participates in the process. The results are written down and shared to ensure a common understanding of the goals and that progress towards goal achievement is maintained.

Preparation for Coaching worksheet  link

Tips:

  • For those being coached: make sure you get your completed preparation sheet to your coach at least a few days before the session so that the coach can take your feedback into account. This helps him or her prepare to answer your questions and obtain any additional information and resources that may be useful to you at this time and bring it to the session.
  • For coaches: take note of the questions and struggles that may be noted in the preparation sheet. Consider how you can best help address those issues and which resources can you provide to help in the process? What is the best way to approach the coaching session – given those questions, issues and of course the overall goals that had been set for the coaching process?
  • Do remember to look back at previous preparation sheets and also the updated development plan on occasion (maybe once every 6 months) to recognize and appreciate progress made to date and to help motivate those being coached to take the next steps that may be required towards ultimate goal achievement.

Positive Mindset


The success of a leader, a manager or an ambitious employee depends largely on the mindset that he or she operates on. When we are in a positive state of mind we can focus on our goals and collaborate and communicate in positive ways which inspire and motivate others to help us succeed in our goals.

It is unfortunately also possible for us to get pulled away from the positive state of mind when we are in high stress situations for a long period of time and when we allow ourselves to go down a spiral of negative thinking. Successful leaders and managers have learned how to quickly realize when this happens and to start implementing corrective actions and adjustments to their way of thinking to help them rapidly get back to a focused mind and closer to the outcomes that they are planning on.

Expectations and Reality Curves

This model shows the blue path which I call the Expectation Trap or summarized as the kind of thinking that believes “things should not be this way”. This kind of thinking very easily moves us out of a positive mindset and it is aligned with going against reality. We wish that reality was different and we build this on our expectations of how good things should be and how badly others are acting or behaving as if others are actually causing the negative outcomes which we do not want to see.  The green curve is the way out of the negative thinking. It is a different mindset which aligns with 1) doing a reality check and using that as the basis for moving towards a better way of thinking, 2) learning from the past, 3) changing or improving the plans we had before something happened to interrupt our progress and then 4) moving into the new direction with a positive focus and determination.

The first step is often the toughest and once a person is in a negative state of mind it is really hard for him or her to realize this. If you have used a reality check worksheet a few times you will get better at recognizing the signs without having to complete the Realty Check Worksheet.

Use the outcomes from this worksheet for further discussions with your mentor/coach or adviser. It may be that you need some coaching or just someone to be a sounding board for you as you talk through the situation and how to resolve it in the best way.

Some tips:

  • Be sure to really connect with the negative feelings when you complete the worksheet. Some people are really good at being able to temporarily switch off their emotions to focus on business – but for this form, do make sure you are connecting with how it feels inside of you when you think about that situation or event that had caused you to feel pulled away from your positive mindset and down the Expectation Trap.
  • Do take the steps necessary to resolve any upsetting situation/event. There is nothing worse than unfinished business behind you. It slows you down and drains you of positive mental energy that you need to accomplish the goal(s) that you have set for yourself. Your coach/mentor or adviser can help you with that if you are not sure how to resolve the upset so you can leave it behind you.

Determining own Values TEMPLATE


valuables

Before you can select goals and objective for your life and your career, you need to know what you value above all else in your life. You could not even select priorities for your time or how to use your efforts and energy best if you did not have clarity on what your values are. This is also true for leaders, managers and others who like to plan for the successes they intend to achieve.

Values drive how you spend your time and how you make choices and decisions for activities and events that are important to you. Your values are especially helpful with choosing between two options – events to attend, how to prioritize activities, which actions to take next etc. When it comes to decision-making: select options that mostly align with your values and refrain from choosing options that are not aligned or even opposites to your values.

This template can help you define your own values; it contains a list of statements to guide you on your quest. Instructions on how to use the template can be found at the top of the worksheet. First you read through the statements and then put a Y for yes in the first column to indicate those statements which most appeal to you on an internal value scale. (It seems or feels right to you; knowing yourself and what you find important in life). The next step is to look at only the ones you have selected with a Y – put a score between 1 and 10 next to the selected items using the column to the right of each statements to indicate how important that selected statement (representing a value) is to you. The highest scores indicate your highest values. Rephrase or clarify any of the value statements so that you can be 100% sure to remember it correctly a few days or weeks down the line when you review the list of your top values.

Tips:

  • Feel free to add more statements or words at the bottom of the list if you think of values that are not shown. I find that these lists are good at helping one start-up the process and then your own ideas and words start to pop-up which then enables you to complete the process without using the listed guiding statements.
  • Once you have your list of top 5 values, check that against how you spend your time and ask yourself if your choices reflect your values or not. If they do, great. If they do not, what will you change to ensure you spend your time in a way that reflects your values better?
  • Look at those who are close to you next. Are you surrounded by people who share your values or do they have different values? If their values are aligned with yours, great. If their values are not aligned with yours, what will you do to ensure that you are able to live up to your own values?
  • Your job and the company you work for/the office environment – do you feel that your values are compatible with the environment and what the company is trying to achieve? Are people (employees and customers) being treated in a way that you feel is aligned with your values? I am not suggesting that you resign tomorrow if there is a disconnect between your values and status quo. Instead I would like to pose a question… what can you do to positively impact how things are being done right now? And what do you think are the best steps to take if you do not see any improvement over time or a better alignment with your values?

It is not easy to hold yourself accountable in this way; knowing what your values are and being honest with yourself about how well your life choices align with your values.  It is possible that some people will get upset with you when you consciously start making different choices with your time and the things you are interested in or willing to do. The benefit of making decisions with your values in mind is that you will be able to take a more direct line to accomplishing your goals.  This will impact time management, prioritizing preferences and cutting out those items that distract you from achieving the goals and objectives that you have set for yourself.

Determining own Values TEMPLATE